Friday, September 14, 2007

Soccer chicks

One of my biggest weaknesses, probably second only to chocolate, is an obsession with sporting events, especially those that involve whole countries and therefore allow me the opportunity to root rabidly for and against teams in sports that would otherwise not even merit a nanosecond's worth of thought. Case in point: women's soccer. I pay absolutely no attention to it until the World Cup rolls around, then follow the tournament religiously. Unlike men's soccer, where the US is woefully behind most of the world when it comes to player talent and skill, the US women's squad is a powerhouse, having won two of the last three events, and having produced arguably the greatest two soccer girlies of my lifetime: Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm. This year's World Cup takes place in China, and the US team played its first game on Tuesday at 5:00 in the morning, against a surprisingly tough North Korean squad. Since Tuesday marked the 6-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, I decided to show my patriotism by getting up at 4:45 to cheer on the US chickadees. A few random observations from the game:

  • The lovely Heather Mitts is out with an injury. Without her on the team, the only decent-looking player is the goalkeeper, Hope Solo. What a terrific name! I wonder if Springs Vader and Eternal Skywalker are on the bench?
  • While we're on the subject of names, the Ironic Nomenclature Award goes to US defender Shannon Boxx, who appears to be more of a man than I'll ever be. How manly is she? Let's just say Sam Elliott's on the phone to her 'cause he wants his mustache back.
  • Speaking of ugly players: the entire North Korean squad is so unattractive, they make the Firecat cheerleaders look sponge-worthy by comparison.
  • Play-by-play announcer John Paul Dellacamera (translates into "Of the camera" -- more irony!) informs us that the North Korean squad is the youngest in the field of qualifying nations, averaging just under 22 years of age. This is very surprising news to me, since they all look like the 900-year old incarnation of Lo-Pan in "Big Trouble in Little China."
  • The US coach appears bent on playing the size advantage card -- the American girls tower over the Lo-Pans. Unfortunately, the size advantage is a moot point, since our giants are too slow and plodding to maintain possession of the ball against the ridiculously agile Lo-Pans. After a heart-attack paced first-half in which the Koreans held a 75% to 25% edge in ball possession and therefore generated many more scoring chances, Coach Greg Ryan makes no line-up or tactical adjustments for the second half. He obviously suscribes the the Karl Smesko school of crash-and-burn coaching.
  • The game was played under a light but steady rain, and both goalies had a horrible time controlling airballs. The first Korean goal, in fact, consisted of an innocuous cross that slipped right through Hope Solo's hands and somehow ended up in the back of the net. Solo's reaction was priceless. She looked shocked for about a second, then threw an epoch-making hissy fit, punching the air, screaming like a banshee, and actually smacking herself in the face.
  • The rain also exposed Hope Solo's beauty secret: she's wearing make-up!!! This wouldn't have been a problem under normal circumstances, but the drizzle and monsoon-season humidity took their toll on Hope's cosmetic embellishments. At the end of the first half, she looked like a chronic insomniac. By the time the second half was coming to a close, she had developed an uncanny resemblance to King Diamond. Not good.
  • Colour commentator Julie Foudy was one of my favourite players when she captained the US squad some five years ago. As an announcer, however, she's a shameless homer. As the Lo-Pans ran circles around us, she maintained that this was good for the US, for it would "toughen them up" for their subsequent games. When the Lo-Pans took a 2-1 lead in the second half, Foudy stated that this wasn't necessarily bad, because it would give the US a chance to prove their mettle by overcoming a deficit. When it looked like the game was lost for good, Foudy insisted that this was one of the best things that could happen, because the US would actually benefit from "getting a loss out of the way so they can concentrate on winning the cup" -- I'm still trying to comprehend that rationale. Hey, maybe if the US get knocked out of the tournament in the first round, it would be a good thing so they can concentrate on preparing for the NEXT world cup...right, Julie?????? Mon Dieu.
  • Foudy's also a bird of ill-omen: with the US up 1-0, Abby Wambach collided with one of the Lo-Pans and cracked her head open. Since she was bleeding, she had to leave the pitch, forcing the US to play a woman short for about eight minutes. Foudy pulled her "this is a good thing for the US, because now they can implement one of the coaching drills to see how to cope with playing short-handed." Of course, the US switched from a 4-4-3 to a 4-2-4 (a WTF tactic if I ever saw one), and the Lo-Pans took advantage of the suddenly open middle of the field to set up various dangerous attacks and score two quick goals. Way to go, Cassandra!
  • After the US miraculously tied the game on a gorgeous goal by Heather O'Reilly, King Diamond came up huge, preserving the tie almost single-handedly thanks to a couple of remarkable saves. It was good to see King Diamond redeeming herself after the slipped ball snafu. As a bonus, her smeared make-up qualified her as an honorary member of the Insane Clown Posse.
And so, I breathed a sigh of relief once the game was over, with the US barely hanging on for a 2-2 draw. Our girlies looked very shaky, were outplayed for a great deal of the game, and the coaching staff never came up with an answer for the Koreans' speed, whether by tactical or roster adjustments. To tell the truth, it's a good thing the weather was awful -- the game-long constant drizzle bogged down the pitch. If the game had been played under normal conditions, I fear the Koreans would have run circles around us. Our midfielders are tough but kind of slow, and the defense is a sieve. Up next for the US squad: Sweden. Look alive, girlies!

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